When Anthony Planakis was going through the New York Police Academy, they told him to write his interests down on a little card.
"Beekeeping, of course I put that down," says 54-year-old Planakis, who is a fourth generation beekeeper. "And the very first job, the sergeant comes right up to me and I just look up and go, 'Hey, Sarge,' and he goes, 'Bees?' and I go, 'Yeah, where?' 'Harlem.' And I go, 'Cool.' That was it, that was the first job I handled," he says.
And that's how he became the department's unofficial beekeeper starting in 1995, earning him the nickname Tony Bees. Planakis has been handling hives for 40 years and keeps them in his backyard in Queens and on a property in Connecticut.
"Whenever I'm working a swarm, I hear nothing around me," he says. "I mean you can have a jackhammer running down below and I wouldn't even hear it. I'm in the perfect world now. Actually that's the only time I feel safe. I'm never scared, never afraid. So, uh, I think it's in my blood."
But despite his family's history of beekeeping, growing up, Planakis wanted nothing to do with it.
"Then 1977, spring time. My father looked at me and goes, 'Grab that chair, sit in front of the hive.' And I looked at him and I go, 'You're crazy. I'm not sitting in the front over there.' And he goes, 'Just sit there, I want you to see what's gonna happen,' " Planakis recounts.
"The sun was just coming up over the hill, dawn was just breaking. Low and behold as soon as the sun hit that hive they started flying out. Let me tell ya, that was the alarm clock going off. And it was gorgeous, it was beautiful," Planakis continues. "And he goes, 'They know what to do, they have to work. And that's their job, to work, until they die.' And that's what I do. I don't go on vacations. I see it as a waste of time. 'Cause I'd rather work with them."
Planakis doesn't have children, but he feels like the bees have become his kids.
"But I look at them as, I took it upon myself to say, hey, I'm adopting, you know, 27,000 kids right here. So I better be looking out for them," he explains.
"So, I've learned from the bees patience, respect, you know and I guess work 'til you die."
That may be why Planakis still takes calls about hives and swarms, though he retired from the NYPD in 2014.
Audio produced for Morning Edition by Alletta Cooper.
StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Time now for StoryCorps. And today we're going to hear from a man who, for 20 years, repeatedly saved New Yorkers from bees. Anthony Planakis is a fourth-generation beekeeper and a retired New York City Police detective. He served as the NYPD's unofficial beekeeper starting in 1995. It earned him the nickname Tony Bees.
ANTHONY PLANAKIS: When you're going through the academy, they put out this little card. And they ask you on there - hey, whatever you are interested in, just put it down over there. Beekeeping - of course, I put that down. And very first job - the sergeant comes right up to me. And I just look up, and I go - hey, Sarge. And he goes, bees? And I go, yeah. Where? Harlem. And I go, cool. That was it. That was the first job I handled.
Whenever I'm working a swarm, I hear nothing around me. I mean, you can have a jackhammer running down below; I wouldn't even hear it. I'm in the perfect world then. Actually, that's the only time I feel safe. I'm never scared, never afraid.
So I think it's in my blood. My father was taught the art of beekeeping by my grandfather. But growing up, I wanted nothing to do with. Then 1977, springtime, my father looked at me and he goes, grab that chair. Sit in front of the hive. I looked at him, and I go, you're crazy. I'm not sitting in front over there. And he goes, just sit there. I want you to see what's going to happen.
The sun was just coming up over the hill. Dawn was just breaking. Lo and behold, as soon as that sun hit that hive, they started flying out. Let me tell you - that was the alarm clock going off, and it was gorgeous. It was beautiful. And he goes, they know what to do. They have to work. And that's their job, to work until they die. And I mean, that's what I do. I don't go on vacations. I see it as a waste of time (laughter) because I'd rather work with them.
And - I look at them as my children, which I don't have any children. But I look at them as, I took it upon myself to say - hey, you know, I'm adopting, you know, 27,000 kids right here, so I better be looking out for them. So I've learned from the bees patience, respect, you know, and, I guess, work till you die.
(SOUNDBITE OF WEINLAND'S "FOR LAND FOR LOVE FOR TIME (INSTRUMENTAL)")
MARTIN: That's Anthony Tony Bees Planakis at StoryCorps in New York City. He retired from the NYPD in 2014, but he still takes calls about hives and swarms. His interview will be archived at the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.